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June 29, 2015

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When working at height is a nutritional issue

By Kate Cook

According to HSE, working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries. Of course, there are a number of practical strategies to put in place as an employer, including assessing the actual need of working at height and making sure that safety equipment is well maintained. That is the practical application, but what about our so-called human resource? Do we ensure that they are really in the most prime condition possible to be operating in such a high-risk environment?

Many workers arrive on site early without having had any breakfast (or adequate breakfast) and then may not get a break until mid morning. Eating nothing or a breakfast of sugary cereal could be construed as a safety issue because of the negative impact on blood glucose levels and therefore the likelihood of accidents occurring when the blood sugar has slumped. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause sleepiness and dips in concentration (amongst other things), not great if you are operating a crane or working at height up a ladder.

But is there a more silent killer that can affect workers, especially those isolated crane operatives working for long hours by themselves? Many of these jobs are highly sedentary and involve long hours with repetitive tasks where it is easy to reach for the kind of snacks that relieve the immediate tedium but do nothing for the blood sugar or health. Perhaps in addition the nature of the grab-snack is highly calorific which doesn’t help the propensity to gain weight.

Of course, it is not just about the fact that these snacks might not be ideal in terms of health, in the long run they are contributing to some of the degenerative diseases that make operatives dangerous to work – e.g. diabetes and heart disease. It is not only the effect they are having on themselves but potentially on other colleagues. Feeling under par is one thing, having a heart attack is quite another, with the knock on effect on your colleagues if you cause an accident.

Many workers work away from home and might be in digs with no immediate cooking facilities, fridge, washing up and storage. In addition, without the support of family it’s difficult to get the motivation to prepare a meal, plus buying and cooking for one is expensive. After a long day, the craving is for something fast, cheap and that will fill the hole.

We should be concerned that the very resource that builds our buildings/bridges/airports and schools will not be fit for purpose, perhaps within the next decade. As the population ages are we able to attract younger and vibrantly healthy workers into the industry to replace those who are unable to work due to chronic health problems?

Even if we give our workers the means to change their diet (better education/addressing the health part of health and safety, or money) many go straight into work and are not having their first break until 11.30am, shoving down something quickly, and may only be having this one meal in the entire day. It’s no real wonder that the underlying health of the work force might struggle.

Is it time to look at the structure of this working pattern and ask ourselves, is this really working?

Kate CookKate Cook is a nutrition and wellness expert and an international speaker. She is also founder and director of the Harley Street clinic The Nutrition Coach. Her clients include the Bank of England, JP Morgan, Network Rail, Abellio, Skanska, Gardiner and Theobald, and EDF Energy.




What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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